Washington State Becomes First To Legalize Sports Gambling In 2020

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The passage of Washington’s sports gambling law couldn’t have come at a worse time, and even worse: Several steps that were taken during the crafting of the legislation are highly questionable.

But nevertheless, there is a new member of the legal United States sports gambling club with Washington becoming the 21st state, and the first of 2020, to authorize sportsbooks to accept wagers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed ESHB 2638 into law Wednesday afternoon, March 25. The legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support while on its way to passing in the state House of Representatives and the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk.

According to WA sports betting legislation, the state’s tribal casinos are granted the exclusive right to accept wagers on professional and collegiate sporting events. All bets on games involving in-state college teams are prohibited.

However, to place any wagers in the Evergreen State, you must travel to one of the brick-and-mortar sportsbooks operated by the tribe since only in-person betting is allowed. Mobile sports gambling apps are only allowed to be used on the casino premises.

It’s unclear whether Washington will launch physical sportsbooks anytime soon since health officials strongly encourage staying home and practicing social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, major professional sports leagues aren’t playing games, which means sports betting handles will take a big hit as licensed operators shift focus toward online U.S. casino gambling and poker.

Rebecca Kaldor, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), said the tribes were pleased with the passage of the bill authorizing them to open sportsbooks.

“We thank Governor Inslee for joining bipartisan majorities in the legislature to pass this careful and thoughtful approach to sports betting,” Kaldor said. “The revenue generated by tribal gaming funds critical needs in our communities, and it enhances the lives of both tribal and nontribal Washingtonians.”

“Tribal communities and governments are currently dealing with the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, with many tribal governments focusing on essential services and shutting down business activities such as casinos,” Kaldor added. “As we recover from this crisis, the addition of this amenity will help tribal governments fund the essential services their members will need to get back up on their feet.”

However, the newly signed sports betting law may have to clear some additional hurdles due to suspect language included in the final draft. Most notable is the “emergency amendment” that made the bill sound as if legalizing in-person tribal sports gambling was a life or death situation.

“This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect immediately.”

Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson owns about half of the licensed card rooms in Washington and recently said he would sue the state for its misuse of the emergency clause, among other objections.

“The emergency clause is something we welcome because we think it’s flawed logic, and there is no emergency. We think ultimately through litigation this legislation would probably be thrown out.”

While WA lawmakers may have made history when they legalized sports gambling this year, it’s probably a safe bet say we won’t see a sportsbook launching in Washington state any time soon.